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Riding the winds of change

The Evangelical movement may have blown us out to sea, but it can also help us set a new course

by Perry Engle

The breeze was already blowing steadily offshore, directly out of the Santa Barbara harbor, and it was barely 8:30 in the morning. I was a junior in college and had promised to take three classmates on a short sailing trip along the California coast. The 14-foot vessel that my family owned jointly with some friends was nondescript in every way except for its laughably menacing name: Kamikaze. I set the sail and we shot out of the mouth of the marina like a rocket on the Fourth of July.

We had barely caught our collective breath when we were already a mile or two out into the now-rolling Pacific. The whitecaps on the rising waves signaled imminent danger. Another hour and we could have been halfway to Hawaii. I turned Kamikaze into the wind, attempting to work back towards shore.

But to no avail. The gusts that had filled our sails with such exhilaration and promise now threatened to push us even farther out to sea. The boat began to take on water and eventually capsized, leaving the four of us clinging to its side. It wasn’t long before we were spotted and rescued by some local fishermen. But the Kamikaze—God rest its soul—never sailed again.

One moral of this story (I know, there are many) is that winds that are favorable to your journey at one point in time might eventually push you further out to sea than you intended to go. Quite possibly this is the lesson to be learned from the powerful influence of Evangelicalism in the life of the Brethren in Christ Church.

Now, I don’t want to be overly dramatic, so let me just say this up-front: The Brethren in Christ are Evangelicals in the strictest sense of the term. To be an Evangelical is to be about the good news of Jesus Christ. Evangelicalism is the good news of the Bible, of personal conversion, of the saving work of Jesus on the cross, and of sharing our faith in word and deed. In the 1950s, the BIC embraced this movement because of what we discerned God doing in the world. We joined Evangelicalism’s winds of change quite simply because we felt compelled to reach people for Christ.

What we could never have known was how far out to sea those winds would take us. We didn’t know that the favorable breezes of this valuable movement would eventually merge with the gales of nationalism, individualism, materialism, and political partisanship. We couldn’t foresee that the Evangelical movement would eventually push hard against some of our most heartfelt convictions—convictions like belonging to the community of faith, pursuing peace, living simply, and following Jesus.

Some might say our denominational ship has been swamped, like the ill-fated Kamikaze, by the Evangelical storm of the past 60 years. I would disagree. Instead, I’d suggest that, although we may have taken on some water, we have also gained a better appreciation for who we are as a people of God. We have reestablished the importance of reaching people for Christ and for planting new churches.

Every generation needs to check its compass from time to time, reassess its progress, bail a little water, and reset its course. The BIC Church is no different. We may not be the biggest ship in the water, but we are solid and strong and have weathered the test of time for 235 years.

Today, it seems we are steadily working our way back into the shipping lane where God has called us to be as a Church. When Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8), it was a reminder to always be prepared to set sail for wherever God’s Spirit is stirring. Just make sure the name on the back of your boat isn’t you-know-what.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle has never had a sailing lesson in his life—and it shows. He is bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Regional Conferences of BIC U.S., and lives with his wife, Marta, and their family in Ontario, Calif.

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